We had the chance to talk with the very talented Creative Director / Director, Anthony Furlong at Shilo about the creative process that went into making the new HBO Holiday greeting! Here’s what he had to say…
Digital Canvas: Was this brainstormed from conception by you and the team at Shilo, or did HBO provide you with the idea and come to you for the production? Also, how did the paper theme come into play?
Anthony Furlong: When HBO approached us for the initial pitch, they asked us to completely concept what form their animated holiday message would take – only providing a few constraints. We needed to convey their greeting without referring to any specific religious holiday, without live action and without depicting any specific type of character with a character-driven narrative. Also taking into consideration how we can speak to the identity of HBO, we wrote several treatments with this take on their 1983 Intro being our favorite. No matter where you live, what you believe in, how old you are or what position you hold – Home is where the heart is. That is what the holidays are all about. The original HBO Intro carried a similar theme and we felt it would be a perfect match. Using paper to construct our world came as a very natural and obvious choice for us. Not only was the original intro created by hand, but almost every iconic Christmas story from my childhood was as well. From Frosty to Rudolf to the California Raisins, bringing animated stories to life for the holidays through the use of human touch speaks to our hearts in a way that nothing else can. Of course, paper also speaks to the varied holiday cards, decorations, and wrapping that we typically identify with this time of year.
Digital Canvas: The beautiful behind the scenes shows off mainly handmade elements shot practically. Was this strictly for pre-visualization and animatic purposes, or was some of the holiday card actually shot in camera?
Anthony Furlong: In the initial stages of this project, I really wanted to build this world practically on a stage and shoot it live. Due mainly to time constraints, we chose to build everything in CG instead. It was extremely important to me that we maintain the authenticity of actually building it. So we built several buildings and characters out of paper, studying paper folding techniques and putting every tiny detail into our 3d models. Even though you most likely will not see it, everything you see has folds and inside flaps. Throughout the entire production, the team continued to fold bits of paper to accurately convey in the computer what could physically be done.
Digital Canvas: When trying to build a massive world such as this, it can become somewhat overwhelming. Did you try and make these buildings technically accurate to anything specific other than the original HBO Feature Presentation? And how did you go about generating enough buildings to fill each scene?
Anthony Furlong: The original HBO Intro seems to fly from New York City and into Long Island. For this, however, we wanted to extend the journey across the entire USA. In keeping with the original, we designed NYC to match what HBO had done to be completely accurate.
Digital Canvas: Each frame is beautifully composed by the way. If you stop on any given frame there is so much attention to detail, specifically in the texturing. Did you capture and create all of your own textures?
Anthony Furlong: After our camera flies past NYC, we continue our journey where the original left off. Our modeling phase was definitely the longest, taking approximately three-four weeks with a team of 4 artists. On top of this, we photographed and created our own unique textures. Not having the use of color or various materials, it was a fun challenge to find different types of paper weaves to represent different textures in the real world.
Digital Canvas: I am very familiar with the 1983 version of the HBO Feature Presentation, and this certainly pays homage with stylized accuracy. Since this is one long, seamless camera move across this epic journey, were you looking for natural cut points in which you could try and break it up into sections?
Anthony Furlong: I paid a lot of attention to the original camera work when creating our CG camera. They used a lot of high tree ridges and various levels of construction to show new environments and communities. This brings a wonderful element of surprise and I wanted to maintain this. This camera approach created natural “cut points” without having to artificially build them into our pipeline. With our renders being so heavy, it became vital that our team was able to render each environment separately – even with 50 nodes on the farm.
Digital Canvas: I think most of our readers are dying to know what software and plugins you used for the animation and post production? It seems like there is a bit of Flash going on, and possibly Maya just by looking at the behind the scenes? Were the render times enormous or somewhat workable?
Anthony Furlong: We used flash to create the 2d animation of our characters and animals which we then brought into Maya. Our Mental Ray passes were brought into Nuke with the end message being created in AE.
Digital Canvas: Do you mind telling us how long the entire piece took to make, from start to finish? How large was the team involved?
Anthony Furlong: Overall, we had a team of 8 artists and had around 1 month from award to delivery.